In these activities, children practice naming shapes, describing and comparing shape attributes, composing and decomposing shapes, and thinking flexibly and logically about geometry. Children “solve” a variety of geometric puzzles and animal puzzles using pattern blocks. Putting together and taking apart shapes as they fill in the puzzle outline is an important skill on its own, but also as it relates to later mathematics such as part-whole relationships, fractions, area, volume, as well as engineering and design. The pattern blocks, for example, are often used in later grades to teach fractions (e.g. two trapezoids make one hexagon; three blue rhombuses make one hexagon; and three triangles make one hexagon). Early explorations with how these shapes can be put together and taken apart helps children see the world as made up of shapes and prepares them for later mathematical ideas.
The animal puzzles are scaffolded so that the youngest children can use color to help them place the shapes, then use a puzzle with the shapes outlined, then use a puzzle with just the outside outlined. Other puzzles that ask children to find how many ways to make the large triangle, star, parallelogram, or hexagon. The pattern blocks are designed to fit together well. All the sides are equal in length or double the length (the long edge of the trapezoid), and the angles fit together (they are all multiples of 30 degrees).
About the Math
How to Play
Mouse Shapes by Ellen Stoll Walsh
In this book, the mice hide from a cat in a pile of shapes. They have fun making things with the shapes—but the cat finds them! They decide to use the shapes to build “three big scary mice” to scare the cat—and it works! After reading this book, your children could use paper and cut out shapes to build their own designs—a great way to get them thinking about how geometric shapes fit together and make pictures.
Color Zoo by Lois Ehlert
This unique book has artfully cut out and overlaid pages that use shapes—rectangles, squares, circles, triangles, ovals, and more—to make the faces of animals. The bright, colorful designs are ones that will keep the children coming back to look again and again. You can extend this to an art activity by having children glue together different shapes—rectangles, squares, hearts, ovals, triangles, rhombuses, and more—to make creations of their own design.
Bear in a Square, Oso en un cuadrado by Stella Blackstone
Shapes, counting, rhyming, bilingual Spanish and English—this book has it all. On each page bear is looking for a different shape—squares, hearts, circles, rectangles, triangles, rhombuses, zigzags, ovals, and stars. He has to find a certain number, 1-10 of each one. The total number of shapes on the page are shown on the sidebar on the right hand side of the page. The simple, rhyming text is in English and Spanish so children can learn the shape names in both languages. You can extend this book into an art activity by having children glue shapes onto their paper and create a picture around them.
What is Square? by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
The text is simple and rhymes with lots of examples of things in the world that are square. A great basic book that can inspire children to go on their own shape hunt or make a collection of objects that are all square.
Shapes (Math Counts) by Henry Pluckrose
A great book to get children thinking about the shapes they see in the world around them. The first few pages ask children to run their finger around the edge of a square, circle, rectangle, hexagon, and triangle. Then there is a page showing three different squares and the next page showing five different triangles that ask children to look at how they are similar and different. The next part of the book is great for talking about going on a shape hunt—there are photographs where children can find rectangles, squares, triangles, circles in the real world—even hexagons in the honeycomb. On page 16, the author introduces the word tessellation to describe shapes that fit together without leaving spaces. While the word is probably new to children, its probably a concept they have experienced when building in the block area or making designs with the pattern blocks.
You can use this book as an inspiration to go on a shape hunt in your classroom, your school, and outside. Find circles such as clocks, knobs, or stools. Find rectangles in windows, art paper, or photographs. Have children cut out their own shapes and glue them onto paper to make pictures and designs.
So Many Circles, So Many Squares by Tana Hoban
In this wordless picture book, Tana Hoban has taken colorful photographs of images from everyday life with circles and squares. Children will enjoy hunting for the shapes in these pictures and it is a great jumping off point for going on a shape hunt. Note that some of the “squares” have rounded corners and some of the examples of circles, like onions and grapes aren’t really circles.